Largest island of the Cyclades, E of Paros and S of Delos.
In the 3d and 2d millennia B.C. it was a center of Cycladic culture and art. The graves of this period, which are found all over the island, testify to a dense population, but very few remains of houses have been excavated. The graves indicate that Naxos was the chief center for the production of the marble Cycladic idols which were the forerunners of Greece's great sculpture. One of the local natural resources was emery, which was used to smooth the surface of the large-grained Naxian marble. Naxos was preeminent also in the Mycenaean period (LH III). The tradition that Dionysos was born in Naxos (his cult was transferred to Paros, according to Archilochos), the story of Ariadne, the capture of the island by the Thracians, the establishment there of the cult of Otos and Ephialtes, all reflect the importance of the island at that time.
The Protogeometric and Geometric periods (11th-8th c. B.C.) are richly represented, but from the 7th c. on we can follow the development of the island in literary sources as well. It was a rival of Paros and joined the Chalkidian forces during the Lelantine war (8th-7th c. B.C.). With Chalkis, Naxos joined in the colonization of Sicily, where Naxos (founded 735 B.C.) took its name from the island. During the war with Paros, which may be considered a part of the Lelantine war, a Naxian killed Archilochos. The differing directions taken by their art illustrate the lack of accord between the two islands, as well as their respective fields of colonization: Paros in the Aegean and Naxos in the W. The power of Naxos during the 7th and 6th c. is witnessed by the number of Naxian dedications at Delos, but Naxian hegemony over the Cyclades is unlikely.
The tyrant Lygdamis (ca. 540-524 B.C.), a friend and ally of the tyrants Peisistratos and Polykrates, put an end to the aristocratic constitution of Naxos. The ten-year naval supremacy of the island (thalassocracy) is attributed to him, but his tyranny was ended by the intervention of the Spartans.
Naxos was the first to resist the advance of the Persians, ca. 500 B.C. The Persians were helped by the island's old enemy, Miletos, in their attempted expansion to the W, but Naxos, with luck and strength (8000 hoplites, numerous ships, strong walls, and the betrayal of the Persian plans by Miletos, according to Hdt. 5.28f) repulsed the attack. The island did not long escape subjection, however, and her city and shrines were destroyed during the campaign of Datis and Artaphernes in 490 B.C. During Xerxes' campaign the four Naxian ships joined the Greek fleet. A member of the Athenian Alliance, it was the first city which was subjugated by the Athenians (470) and later received Athenian cleruchies (ca. 450 B.C.).
After the Peloponnesian war, Naxos regained her independence, but had lost the power to pursue her own policies against successive domination by the great powers (Spartans, Athenians, the Hellenistic kings, etc.) in the Aegean. The island, however, retained a measure of importance because of its situation and size.
The few monuments preserved are scattered throughout the island. The polis lay on a hill commanding the harbor; the acropolis was probably under the modern town, Kastro. On the shore to the N (Grotta) portions of the Cycladic, Mycenaean (LH III) and Geometric city (several successive layers, all below sea level) are still being excavated. Inland a part of a square building ca. 60 m on a side has been uncovered. It has four colonnades on the sides and bases for dedications in front of it. This was perhaps the agora for the city of the Early Hellenistic period. Across the torrent bed, which cuts off the plain of the lower city, the hill of the Haplomata extends NE. On it is a necropolis notable for its finds, chiefly Cycladic and Mycenaean chamber tombs, in spite of destruction during expansion of the city in the Late Hellenistic period. A little nearer the shore at a site called Kaminaki, important finds have been made: pottery, jewelry, and a part of an archaic kore, from an unknown shrine. Its building has probably collapsed into the sea. Finds have demonstrated the existence of a shrine of Demeter behind and E of the present Gymnaseum of Naxos.
A huge marble doorway (h. 7.9 m including the lintel, w. ca. 6 m) has always been visible on the hill called Palatia left of the modern harbor entrance. Excavation has shown this to be the door to the cella of an archaic Ionic temple from the time of Lygdamis (ca. 530 B.C.), the foundations of which are preserved. It was a peripteral temple with a double colonnade on the short sides (a form simpler than that of the great dipteral temples of Ionia) with a pronaos, cella, and opisthodomos, and it was never finished. During its conversion into an Early Christian basilica the floor was lowered, and the ancient flooring was destroyed along with the whole form of the temple. There is a jamb under a garden wall near the quarry of Phlerios which resembles those on the hill of Palatia and was destined for the temple. Very few architectural fragments have been preserved. The temple may have been dedicated to Apollo.
Not far from the city, in the little valley of the Phlerios near the village of Melanes, among the marble rocks on the slope lies a kouros, ca. 5 m long, dating to the early years of the 6th c. B.C., which was abandoned shortly before the work was completed. There is another without a face, from the same period, a little higher up. From this point to Potamia there are numerous marble quarries.
At the quarry on the N end of the island, on the promontory of Apollo, there is a colossal archaic statue (h. 10.05 m) a little above the sea. It still occupies the spot where work on it was begun. It is a male, bearded, clothed figure with right hand extended. It dates from ca. 570 B.C. and may represent Dionysos. The area is dedicated to Apollo, as is evident on a rock-cut inscription a short distance away: Boundary of Apollo's sacred territory.
At the site called Gyroulas or Marmara, near the village of Sangri, are the remains of a square temple (13 m on a side) which was transformed into an Early Christian basilica. It was lengthened by an apse at the E, the entrance was moved from the S to the N side, the floor was lowered, and the inner columns moved down from the original stylobate into two rows of depressions cut in the living rock (these depressions may have belonged to an earlier building period). Three columns of each row can be made out, and each row was terminated at either end by a parastade of a simpler type than in the doorway at Palatia. The column bases are preserved, each with a two-banded scotia, also numerous fragments of the superstructure (beams, geison, etc.). The temple was square in plan, with a round bothros in front, and numerous dedicatory inscriptions which indicate the temple should be interpreted as a Thesmophorion.
On a second acropolis at Epano Kastro is a Venetian fortress; under its S side is a portion of an ancient wall. This acropolis is probably connected with a series of tombs of the Protogeometric and Geometric periods close to the nearby town of Tsikalario. Beside the tombs are huge, upright, unworked stones (marking stelai or stelai semata).
About a three-hour drive SE of Philoti is the almost completely preserved round tower of Cheimarros. Most of the Cycladic tombs of the island have been found in the now uninhabited SE area of Naxos, but only minimal signs of Cycladic dwellings. There is a square granite tower in the area of Plaka near Agiersani.
The museum of the city of Naxos has been much enriched by recent excavations, most notably its collection of Cycladic, Mycenaean, and archaic remains (pottery and plastic arts). A smaller museum at Apeiranthon houses Cycladic idols and pottery of the area, curious stones, and primitive carvings.
N. M. Kontoleon, ed.
This text is from: The Princeton encyclopedia of classical sites, Princeton University Press 1976. Cited Nov 2002 from Perseus Project.